Concept was on the run. Again. Hopping from casino to casino, trying his luck as a card sharp in a dozen cities, had gotten his name on a lot of black lists. His career had only lasted a week, and already it looked like it was ending. The police. The heroes. The mob. Everyone was after him.
He came across a motel. The Happy Day Inn. From the parking lot, he reached into the motel with his mind. Almost empty. It was run by an old couple. Neither of them watched the news. They wouldn't recognize him. He was safe.
He got a room for the night. Twenty bucks. As he picked up his key, he stole the location of the combination safe off the man, and the number off his wife. Probably wouldn't use it though. Not much money, and it would kind of make him an asshole.
He went into his room, took a shower, and went to bed. He was awoken by the sound of a phone ringing. Could it be for him? Nobody was supposed to know he was here. But he doubted many people were prank calling one star motels in the middle of the night. He decided to pick up. "Hello?"
It was a woman's voice on the other end. "Concept, you are in danger." They knew who he was. Either they were very resourceful prank callers, or this was legit.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Plague."
"As in, the supervillain?"
"Yes. I represent an organization called the Order of Darkness."
"I thought it was the Illuminati Occultus."
"We changed it."
"What do you want?"
"We want you to join."
"What if I'm not interested?"
"Then you're in a lot of trouble."
"Are you threatening me?" He wasn't sure what he'd do if the answer was yes, but it seemed like the appropriate thing to say.
"On the contrary. We're offering to protect you."
"About ten minutes ago, Phoenix kidnapped Flashpoint. Mephistopheles says you're going to be next. He will most likely keep you imprisoned in his lab for a long series of tests, eventually culminating in your dissection."
"And how does he know that. Last time I checked, I was the mind reader."
"Mephistopheles is one of maybe four people on Earth who are intelligent enough to keep track of what Phoenix is doing." It's really only three, and Cognis can only do it when he's not busy with other things. "You'd do well to trust him."
"I'm sorry. I'm not going to trust the evil supervillain who dresses in black and talks in a spooky voice. Good night." Concept wondered what to do. If Phoenix was really after him, that could be a problem.
He checked his watch. It was two in the morning. Should he run? The Order of Darkness had found him fairly easily.
Concept worked out a plan. He would get to a public place. Phoenix wouldn't attack him with lots of people around. Would he?
Concept decided to get to the nearest crowded place. Not an orthodox move for someone on the run from the authorities, but he thought it was his best option. He just needed directions. He felt around the motel. Both the managers were asleep. Crap. Reading their minds gets harder when they go to sleep. Concept concentrated. The nearest city was Bozeman. He spent a few minutes looking around the man's mind, trying to get directions. There it was. Concept checked with the woman. Bozeman had several stores that were open twenty-four hours a day.
The drive was fairly easy. Concept didn't want to be tracked, so he kept his headlines off. If there was anyone else on the road, Concept's powers would pick them up. He reached Bozeman in half an hour.
It was early in the morning. Concept had nothing to do. He decided to try his hand at identity theft. He'd need somewhere to keep the information. His phone? No, not secure enough. He went into Walmart and bought a diary. "For my daughter," he explained when the checkout clerk gave him an odd look. As if that clerk had any right to complain. He cross-dressed sometimes in his bedroom.
Concept started writing down people's names. Birthdays. Social Security Numbers. Email addresses. Passwords. Whether they were cheating their spouses. How much money they made. Was there anything that could be used for blackmail?
By noon, Concept knew more about the population of Bozeman then a dozen census takers could ever hope to learn. He didn't feel any sign of Phoenix. Concept didn't have any experience with genius supervillain minds, but he suspected they'd stand out from a distance.
Just in case, he looked around for weapons he could use. The city of Bozeman owned more guns than some third world militaries, and the enterprising mindreader could steal quite a few of them. Which is how Concept came to be lounging around in a parking lot with a car filled with artillery, scanning the city for signs of Phoenix's hostile brain.
At that point, a ten foot tall four-armed robot fell from the sky wielding two machine guns and two laser pistols.
"I'll admit I didn't see the robot thing coming."
I had a speech synthesizer built into the robot. "My nemesis is a mind reader. But for the record, you couldn't have stopped me regardless. That machine gun is a butter knife to me. Predicting my every move would only allow you to see the inevitability of your defeat. But, out of curiosity, how did you you know I was coming at all?"
"The Order of Darkness told me. What are you going to do to me?"
"I'm going to try to learn how your powers work."
"Will I survive?"
That was not the answer Concept wanted to hear. He turned on the car, and made a break for it. My robot had little trouble stopping him.
"This is a busy parking lot, and there's a crowd gathering. Were you just going to drive through them?" The machine turned to face the onlookers. "You really should leave. In about ten minutes, the police are going to show up and detain everyone here for questioning." There were a lot of people taking videos on their cell phones. A quick EMP took care of that.
The bystanders started leaving. So did Concept. The robot chased after him. Concept couldn't out run the machine. He was trapped. Beaten. Doomed to be tortured by Phoenix's experiments for the rest of his life. Then, suddenly, he began glowing. Lines of blue light traced over his body, emanating from his head. He felt different. Stronger. Did he have another superpower? Was it strength?
He picked up a car, and threw it at the robot. Yeah, he had super strength.
This was disconcerting. I had sent in two robots to deal with Concept. He was tearing the first apart. The robot was spindly, and didn't contain an ounce of Ultrasteel. It has been designed to get there and back quickly with minimal weaponry. In comparison, Concept seemed to have the power to punch through brick walls and withstand high-caliber machine-gun fire. My plan of tranquilizing him and flying him over wouldn't work if no needle could pierce his skin.
Flying there myself would be risky. Too many forays onto American soil in a short time, especially after my theft of weapons-grade uranium, might draw unwanted attention. I doubted I could send another robot. American's might be fine with drones operating on their soil, but I didn't have the parts on hand and building a powerful and versatile robot takes time. What was there that I could do?
Concept had just torn through a fighting robot. He was physically powerful. He had the ability to read people's thoughts. He was feeling pretty good about his prospects.
"I am the king," he shouted, standing on top of a Porsche. "The king!" What should he do next? Test his strength fighting against some hero? Rob a bank? Or maybe, maybe just sleep. He stumbled off the roof of the car. Why was he so tired? Was it something Phoenix had done? Maybe these new physical powers took to much energy. Could he shut them off? He concentrated, and the blue lines receded. It was as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Could he bring them back? The lines returned, and receded again.
Concept peered into a civilian's mind. There was a Bank of America just a few blocks away. As he made his way there, he scanned the minds of the people he passed for information about Phoenix. How strong a robot could he build. He noticed on passerby didn't seem to have a mind. Concept had detected signs of thoughts in sleeping people, unborn babies, and people who watch reality television. But on this person, he picked up nothing.
"Hello, concept," the mindless man said.
"Are you a robot?
"Yes, I was built by Mephistopheles."
"Earlier today you declined his help. But now you realize that even if you destroy Phoenix's next robot, and the one after that, he can just come and get you himself."
"Well, then, what can I do?"
:My creator has a plane waiting for us, in the woods."
The pair of them walked out of the city. Nobody tried to stop them. "What should I call you," Concept asked.
Concept didn't get the reference.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in Terminator. A robot sent to protect you from another robot."
They kept walking. T-800 stopped. "Why did we stop?"
"I need to examine you for bugs."
T-800 walked around Concept several times, occasionally prodding him.
"Can't you do that remotely. Use your scanners or something." Almost as soon as he finished the sentence, Concept began to feel faint. He had just enough time to see the syringe T-800 had used before collapsing on the ground.
When Concept awoke, he was in a featureless steel room. He powered up, and tried to smash his way out. He couldn't. One of the walls began moving. It slid away to reveal that Concept was barred in a cage. Outside, Phoenix was modifying T-800.
"It had some performance issues," I explained. "Skin wasn't as durable as I expected. Probably going to need a new coat."
"So that was your second robot. It was all a trick."
"Not all of it. I really expected the first robot to be enough. And I didn't fake the call from the Order of Darkness." I looked at Concept. "I'll start studying you soon. In the mean time, don't bother trying to escape. I calculated the minimum wall thickness needed to contain you, and doubled it. Noetron should have some furniture for you shortly, and probably some food. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have another prisoner to study. I planted some explosives in his stomach, which I can set off anywhere in the world. Hopefully, that will keep him under control." I got up to leave.
"One thing before you go." He looked at me. "My power lets me see human minds. I can't see animals, and I can't see machines. And I can't see you."
Even if he could read my mind, I doubt he could have said something more disturbing than that. I was a computer.